[This is a review of Gotham season 3, episode 8. There will be SPOILERS.]
Gotham may have temporarily put a pin in its Mad Hatter storyline last week, but the "Mad City" still has plenty of wild cards still in play. The unlikely romantic storyline involving Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) continues to be one of the most intriguing and unpredictable parts of the show, as the latter sees his dark past deeds rise to the surface once again. As much as the Penguin/Nygma story takes Gotham further away from the source material, it does give two of the series' best performers the opportunity to play something more multidimensional and gives longtime recurring player Chelsea Spack the opportunity to return to the fold for a bit.
Elsewhere in Gotham, Barnes (Michael Chiklis) continued to feel the effects of his recent encounter with Alice Tetch's infected blood. Likely, his storyline will only build in the coming weeks, perhaps with a disastrous end for the character by the mid-season finale. After all, with Gordon (Ben McKenzie) back on the force, maybe Barnes' -- who already cheated death at the end of season 2 -- exit from the series can set the stage for Gordon to begin ascending the GCPD ranks, starting the road to his ultimate appointment as commissioner. As usual, there's a lot to dissect this week. So let's hit it.
For weeks, Barnes has been experiencing a violent change, finally giving Emmy-winning actor Chiklis something more substantive to do than bark orders at Gordon and Bullock. The character was brought in towards the top of season 2 to clean up the city streets following the Maniax' infiltration of the GCPD headquarters. For a long while thereafter, we speculated that Barnes might be corrupt, but he has instead emerged as one of the more virtuous figures on the show throughout. Until now, that is. "Blood Rush" opens with Barnes committing his first coldblooded murder, preceded by his own confession of the inner struggle he's been facing over the past several episodes. Though we've gotten glimpses of Barnes' emerging dark side, Gotham certainly could have developed this more deftly rather than relying on the expositional dialogue delivered by Chiklis.
In any case, the fact that the GCPD captain has gone into full-on vigilante territory in killing Gotham criminals does work as a sort of cautionary tale to the ultimate appearance of Batman, whose rule against killing is so key to his own moral code. Moreover, we can only hope that Barnes' loss of faith in the system will help reinforce Gordon's. Before the credits roll on "Blood Rush," Barnes has entered straight-up Judge Dredd territory, declaring that "[he] is the law." Most likely, the character's storyline is drawing to a close, and Chiklis's days on the show are numbered. The episode did feature a few brief moments -- Barnes' quiet reflection in his office, his willingness to turn himself in, etc. -- that indicate he may have a brief respite of sanity in the near future and take his own life to prevent further violence on the city he swore to protect.
For now, Gotham's reinvention of Barnes has been a wise move. The GCPD side of things has ironically always been the weakest element of the series, but this turn of events has enlivened it a bit. Even though the Barnes storyline felt a bit rushed, there is a lot of thematic ground for the show to cover here that can hopefully serve as the building blocks for what's to come in the second half of season 3. Now that Gordon is onto Barnes, the next episode -- titled "The Executioner," presumably after Barnes' line of dialogue before killing Dr. Symon (William Abadie) -- will almost certainly propel the GCPD captain towards his destiny.
THE BATTLE FOR ED
Well, the writing was on the wall the moment we realized Isabella posed a threat to Penguin's newfound love for Nygma. The crime boss-turned-mayor indulged in his darker side (does he have a side not tainted by darkness at this point?) and arranged for Isabella to meet her end. As predictable as this twist was, we're disappointed that Penguin opted for a simple cutting of the brake line to get the job done, since he's usually far more creative when it comes to dispatching his enemies. Poor Penguin is in for a rude awakening when he realizes that Nygma doesn't return his feelings, but if that means that two of the show's most fascinating villains will be drawn into a bitter rivalry in the near future, we're all for it.
What really makes this storyline interesting is how it still manages to paint Nygma -- one of the most clearly unhinged and devious characters on Gotham -- into a sympathetic figure. As much fun as it is to watch remorseless figures like Jervis Tetch and Jerome Valeska unleash their wrath on the city, Nygma has always been deeper than that. Though he mostly relishes in his murderous ways, there's a modicum of humanity left within him that fears his own capacity for violence. Kristen's brief ghostly reappearance was an effective reminder of just how far Nygma has come since his days as the socially awkward GCPD forensics nerd. Even though he's the type of guy that gets turned on by simulating intimacy with a woman he killed, Nygma remains a character that never fails to elevate any story he touches. Too soon to bet that he'll earn his title as The Riddler by season's end? We need another bonafide super-villain in Gotham.
ANOTHER GOTHAM PARTY
Although Mario (James Carpinello) and Lee (Morena Baccarin) did have their engagement party, it wasn't nearly the mess that we may have been expecting. Sure, their was a dead body involved, but considering the shady reputation that parties in Gotham have earned, it still qualifies as one of the tamer gatherings in the series' history. Gordon still appears to be lying to himself about his feelings for family, but knowing his own lack of emotional self-awareness, that probably just means he'll wind up locking lips with the future Mrs. Falcone in the coming weeks.
As much as Gotham is resisting the chance for Mario to pick up his family's empire, it seems like an inevitability that he will give in to his father's legacy. Until then, at least Mario delivered a much-deserved punch to Gordon's face, and the latter even demonstrated some legitimate character development by not letting his temper get the better of him. Still, we know that seemingly normal characters on Gotham are bound to go bad (Nygma, Barnes, etc.), meaning that Mario's nice guy days are running out fast. Just ask Barbara (Erin Richards), who arrived at the engagement party just for an obligatory bit of trouble-stirring. Perhaps she'll have Mario as a partner-in-crime before too long.
Gotham continues next Monday with 'The Executioner' at 8pm on FOX.